"That time was a real pressure cooker for both of us," Slater now says of those days. "I felt like it was going to break me. I don't know what that was like for Andy."
"Andy really dreaded it after a while," says John Irons, Andy's Hanalei-based uncle. "He called it 'the circus.' Everywhere he'd go, people were hounding him. Everybody wanted something."
Still, Irons often gave. "We went on a trip to Cabo a couple years ago," recalls surf writer Jake Howard, of ESPN.com. "Kids came up and started asking him for stuff. He didn't have anything, so he literally gave one kid the shirt off his back."
Despite his abrasive public image, Irons was no prima donna. "Andy was a world champ, but he was one of us," says Lopez. "He would pile in the back of a Ford Ranger that had no seat, with three other guys."
For Irons, the world tour seemed to offer redemption. "It was so positive," says Brewer. "I just wonder where it went wrong again."
OUTWARDLY, THINGS BEGAN to break down during the 2005 season, when Slater won his seventh title. Irons still put up a fight, finishing second in 2005 and 2006, but signs had emerged that the pressure was getting to him, and his temper became legendary. After losing to friends at poker on a 2005 boat trip, he threw a laptop into the Pacific. During surf competitions, he raged through the competitors' areas after poor heats, at least once smashing his surfboard.
In late 2007, Irons was out of the running for the world title, which would wrap up in December, and rumors of his substance abuse were swirling inside the surf industry and on Internet discussion forums. "It became the elephant in the room," said Brewer. "Hearsay was that it was OxyContin."
In other sports, narcotics—and performance enhancers—would show up in tests. But the ASP doesn't conduct drug testing. The organization does allow event sponsors and governing bodies for host countries to conduct them, but it wouldn't comment on whether Irons was ever officially tested.